Last Friday, Lipstick & Politics attended the incredible Women’s Entrepreneurship Day event at Splunk, Inc. Headquarters. This special day was inaugurated three years ago and is currently celebrated in cities around the world. Focused on inspiring and supporting female entrepreneurs, the WED panels in San Francisco were filled with many accomplished leaders, from the Bay Area and beyond, who were eager to share their experiences and insights. We sat amongst a diverse crowd of aspiring and experienced of entrepreneurs and the evening did not disappoint.
Introduced by Anjou Ahlborn Kay, the SF WED Ambassador, the opening keynote was delivered by Jillian Manus, the Managing Partner of Structure Capital. Manus gave the audience a series of tips to help female entrepreneurs succeed, reminding everyone that, as a woman, it is imperative that women help other women. In many of her points, she discussed the importance of self-validation: for example, investors will listen to numerous pitches, but they are motivated to invest in the entrepreneur first and then the product, so it’s crucial to understand one’s strengths, evolve everyday, and to not allow negative talk upon oneself. One of the most memorable tips she gave was to understand the inherent differences between the female and male brain. By understanding those core differences, we can better identify how to listen one another and how the opposite gender processes things.
Following the opening keynote was the first panel of the evening, “Overcoming Obstacles.” Obstacles, in this context, range from personal to societal and the panelists had not only excellent advice to overcome these obstacles, but also provided ways to re-appropriate obstacles for one’s own benefit. Many of them noted how obstacles didn’t have to be thought of as problems or roadblocks, especially when obstacles can be personal. Anna Mok, Managing Partner of Deloitte, spoke about how a shift of mindset can be key to having more awareness of oneself and not hating one’s limits. Instead, as Josette Melchor, the founder of the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, said, obstacles can be opportunities of improvement and passions behind new endeavors. Obstacles aren’t stopping points, but starting points. Ultimately, when trying to overcome obstacles, Dr. Jen Welter, the first female coach in the NFL who also has a PhD in Psychology, emphasized that one must be 100% authentically oneself. To be anything less would overlook one’s own strengths and assets.
Next, we moved to the short fireside chat that was immediately different from the rest: it was an all male panel discussing what men can do to help empower women. Too often in many conferences similar to WED, females are left responsible to discuss gender equality and female empowerment, when in reality, this topic must be addressed by men as well. On the question of why more female entrepreneurs should be funded, some of the male panelists answered matter-of-factly. Ben Parr, author and co-founder of Octane AI, stated that women and women-led teams perform better. On another hand, Karl Mehta, CEO/Founder of EdCast Inc., said that it was timely to invest in more women because our society is entering an era in which a more “compassionate” capitalism is needed—and women are more capable of leading that. As for what can be done to bring women up, the panelists stated how we need to motivate young girls and cultivate a more accepting environment for them. In addition, we need to break and redefine gender roles that often start at home.
In the final panel of the evening, “Women & Technology,” panelists offered fantastic tips for women and men wanting to start a company. The panel featured women of top tech companies, each woman imparting crucial insights for the future leaders in the audience. For instance, Adriana Gascoigne, CEO/Founder of the nonprofit Girls in Tech, offered two pieces of advice: 1) “Know what you suck at,” and 2) travel. To know one’s shortcomings highlights the importance of working in a team environment and being surrounded by a variety of people with different strengths and perspectives; it offers a more well-rounded space for a budding company. As for traveling, it offers valuable lessons that can be creatively informative for any aspiring entrepreneur because of the myriad of encounters and nuances one can experience.
The closing keynote was given by Vicki Saunders, the founder of SheEO. Saunders actually began by saying that she thinks that success is more difficult for female entrepreneurs now than before. But her organization intends to provide a new, better system that cultivates and provides for women by women. She called it “radical generosity” by a huge network of supportive, intelligent women, which could be a game-changing economic model that could better assist our daughters, granddaughters, and future female entrepreneurs. It’s a progressive note to end on for WED and the future is certainly bright for women leaders.